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What I did on my holidays, by Colin (aged 35 and a bit)

We’re all back from the big MathsJam weekend. We’ve got loads of material which we’ll start putting up once we’ve recovered our energies. Meanwhile, Colin Beveridge has sent in his report of the event.

Last weekend – as I’m sure all Aperiodical readers know – was the MathsJam annual gathering in Cheshire.

Now, I’ve always hated conferences. Loathed the bloody things. I resented travelling to them, resented preparing talks, resented the uncomfortable beds, the politics, the enforced niceness. I resented the nod-along-and-pretend-you-understand, the gabble-away-with-your-head-down-so-you-can-say-you-gave-a-talk, the questions-for-the-sake-of-advancing-pet-theories, the sessions that lasted weeks. I resented the trying-to-find-veggie-food-in-New-Orleans, the being-expected-to-show-up-for-everything, the having-to-keep-receipts, all of it.

I could have just stayed at my desk and played Tetris. But MathsJam is different.

Apart from a slightly uncomfortable bed, there was none of that. Everyone there was there to have fun with maths, and meet people of the same mind. There were professors and teenagers, teachers and students, interested laypeople, programmers and technophobes, and an implied invitation to say hello to anyone.

And the talks… the talks were terrific. I had to slip out for 10 minutes of one session, and I felt like I missed out. It was the first time I’ve been to a conference and not wanted to bunk off a single session.

It’s probably unfair to pick out highlights, but I’m going to anyway — purely subjectively: on the first day, Micky Bullock’s talk on The Swearing Graph had me giggling like a 13-year-old before Yuen Ng stole the show with easily-made homopolar motors (like this one) and Elizabeth Hind taught Marcus du Sautoy a thing or two about pyramids. (3-4-5 rope triangles? No thank you.)

I enjoyed Robin Houston’s talk on Asexual Rabbits in Lineland, attacking Fibonacci sequences from a slightly odd viewpoint, and Tom Button finally cleared up for me how to explain the differentiate-the-volume-to-get-the-surface-area trick when it doesn’t work. Lastly I’m going for Andrew Taylor for explaining the Duckworth-Lewis Method in less time than it’d have taken him to explain leg before wicket.

But it wasn’t about the talks so much as sitting down with other geeks, not feeling the need to apologise for being a mathematician, and not being looked at funny when you say “Did you see $x$’s talk? Does that result hold in case $y$?” before grabbing the nearest pen and pad and proving it.

Maybe I’ve been going to the wrong kind of conference.

One Response to “What I did on my holidays, by Colin (aged 35 and a bit)”

  1. Nicholas Jackson

    It really was a lot of fun – certainly more fun than most academic conferences I’ve been to. I’d never been before, but I noticed a number of similarities with many of the science fiction conventions I’ve been to over the years: a large group of interesting and interested people gathered together in a hotel for a weekend, all of whom are happy to chat to each other about their specific shared interest but also about anything else as well. I really liked it, and intend to go back next year.


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